A pair of giants of yesteryear from our National Pastime passed last weekend. Earl Weaver and Stan Musial both died Saturday.
Both are members of the MLB Hall of Fame. Both were IMO deserving of Cooperstown.
They were as different as chalk and cheese.
Stan the Man
Musial was an amazing player; his career statistics speak for themselves. Musial retired in 1963, yet still ranks 4th all-time in hits. He had a career batting average of .331, a career on-base percentage of .417, and a career slugging percentage of .559; his career spanned 22 seasons. Had he not missed the 1945 season due to wartime service in the Navy, Musial would almost certainly have joined Ruth and Aaron as the only 500 HR/2,000 RBI/2,000 runs scored players in baseball history (he finished with 475 HR, 1951 RBI, and 1949 runs scored). He might also be 3rd in career hits – Musial’s less than 150 hits behind Aaron, and averaged 199+ hits per year from 1943-1957.
Musial was indeed a great player. But by all accounts, Musial was an even better man. There are many anecdotes; two will suffice to show his character.
Joe Black, an African-American, was pitching for the visiting Brooklyn Dodgers during the early part of baseball’s integrated era. At the time, Black was racially taunted by players in the St. Louis dugout during a game.
Musial, batting at the time, stepped out and angrily kicked the dirt to convey his disapproval. Stan waited for Black after the game, shook his hand and said, “I’m sorry that happened. But don’t you worry about it. You’re a great pitcher. You will win a lot of games.” Black said Musial’s support helped him gain the confidence he needed to become a top pitcher.
Willie Mays had a similar story concerning an All-Star Game in the late 1950s. That year, the National League squad had seven black players. Race relations were still somewhat tense.
“We were in the back of the clubhouse playing poker and none of the white guys had come back or said, ‘Hi,’ or ‘How’s it going?’ or ‘How you guys doing?’ or ‘Welcome to the All-Star Game.’ Nothing,” Mays said. “We’re playing poker and all of a sudden I look up and here comes Stan toward us. He grabs a chair, sits down and starts playing cards with us. And Stan didn’t know how to play poker! But that was his way of welcoming us, of making us feel a part of it. I never forgot that. We never forgot that.”
Stan Musial has been referred to as “baseball’s perfect knight”. From all accounts, he deserved that accolade.
Stan Musial died at his home late in the day on January 19, 2013, aged 92. He was preceded in death by his wife Lillian last year. At the time of her death, they’d been married over 71 years.
Rest in peace, Mr. Musial. It’s said you had no enemies. I can believe that.
The Earl of Baltimore
If Musial was chalk, then Earl Weaver was cheese – an extra sharp cheddar, or perhaps a spicy pepper jack. His career in MLB began a few years after Musial’s ended.
Weaver never reached the majors as a player; he bounced around the minors for years before realizing he simply didn’t have the talent. But he had a keen, analytical mind; an excellent eye for talent, including determining strengths and shortcomings; and an in-depth understanding of the game.
Weaver was no saint and no gentleman. He grew up during the depression in Saint Louis – hard times. He was a short man, and often acted as if he had a chip on his shoulder. He had a volcanic temper, and was profane. He still holds the AL record for total number of times ejected from a game during a career (various sources give the number of Weaver’s ejections as being from 91 to 97).
Some of his eruptions and grudges are legendary. Like this Weaver blowup – caught on video because the umpire involved, Bill Haller, was participating in a documentary project and wearing a microphone that day. (WARNING – LINK IS ABSOLUTELY NOT SAFE FOR WORK OR CHILDREN) Weaver’s running feud with one umpire, Ron Luciano, was so well-known that his own team reputedly ran a betting pool on what inning Weaver would get tossed from the game by Luciano. And Weaver’s gag “Manager’s Corner” tape from 1980 – done as a joke after a flubbed take for an episode of the program – has become an Internet classic (AGAIN, WARNING – LINK IS ABSOLUTELY NOT SAFE FOR WORK OR CHILDREN).
Yet Weaver was far from merely a profane clown. He was a truly great manager and baseball strategist. For his career, his teams won nearly 60% of their games (.583 winning percentage). Weaver was a pioneer of the use of statistics to govern in-game match-ups and replacements. He also was one of the first (if not the first) to use radar guns to track the speed of pitches during spring training.
His philosophy was that talented players made the manager, not the other way around – and that it was the manager’s job to put his players into situations where they could excel. Weaver did.
Regardless of whether he was loved or hated by others, his team produced. During his 17 years as manager, Weaver’s teams won 100 games five times; won six division titles and four AL pennants; and won the 1970 World Series. He was selected as Manager of the Year three times.
His only losing season was his last one – after he’d come out of retirement to manage a second time. He then retired for good.
Weaver simply hated to lose. On his second retirement, he was quoted as saying, “On my tombstone, just write: ‘The sorest loser that ever lived.’ “
Baltimore loved Weaver and his fiery ways. He was often referred to as the Earl of Baltimore.
Earl Weaver collapsed and died at about 2AM on January 19, 2013. He was 82 years old. His wife of 49 years, Marianna, was with him when he died. They were returning to Florida on the last leg of this year’s Orioles’ Cruise.
Rest in peace, feisty one. Rest in peace.